Rachel Lynne's Blog

Exploring English Education

Missions, the Homeless, Writing Centers, and the Importance of Literacy March 15, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — racdab2819 @ 5:51 pm

It has been two weeks since I’ve last posted because I spent the past nine days on a service trip in Miami, Florida for my spring break. I went with a group of 80 people, rode the whole way down in a bus, and stayed at a church for the week. Since there were 80 of us, we split up into several groups and went to different work sites every day…some worked with Habitat for Humanity, Ronald McDonald House, or a homeless shelter. I mostly worked at a school/summer camp. The men did a lot of maintenance and me and my girlfriends painted. A lot. It was pretty tedious, but the place looks a lot better now and I feel like I contributed. One day, we took a break from painting and went into downtown Miami to work at a homeless shelter called the Miami Rescue Mission. The organization consists of shelters, an education center, and a supply/distribution warehouse. What I helped with that day was sorting and organizing boxes of donated personal hygiene supplies and then distributing them into bags called “Hope Totes” to give to the homeless. We were told that there are around 25,000 homeless people in the area where we worked, so we made as many Hope Totes as we could that day.
I really wanted to get a chance to tutor English at the education center. I thought I had a lot to contribute and that it would be an incredible experience. I could imagine sharing my experience on this blog. Unfortunately, however, I was not able to tutor. The Miami Rescue Mission education center prefers to only have male tutors, both on staff and temporary volunteers, because almost all of the homeless people who come into the center are middle-aged men. Apparently, anytime a female comes to the center, the men are crude, inappropriate, and sexually harass the women who are trying to help them. Because this has happened so much in the past, the center discourages female tutor volunteers, so I stayed at the warehouse, which was still a great experience.
I did, however, talk to several of the guys in my group who tutored English at the center. They all agreed that it was an amazing experience. They each had to go through a short training session before being allowed to tutor all week, and were told to focus mostly on teaching the men grammar. My friend Mike said he mostly worked on identifying verbs, nouns, pronouns, etc.
I found this interesting, and different from how I imagined the center to be conducted. At Penn State, I work as a tutor in the Undergraduate Writing Center. There, we are instructed to work collaboratively with the students and not push our own styles or opinions too much. We are not even allowed to write on the student’s papers or tell them what to write. As tutors, we are to help them develop their writing, not edit their papers. The typical tutoring session goes something like this:
A tutee comes in and we make our introductions and sit down at a round table. As the tutor, I then ask the tutee to read their paper aloud while I follow along. We usually stop periodically for the tutee to ask questions, correct mistakes that they themselves have noticed, or make any other changes. We go through and talk about the paper, what the writer thinks about his or her writing, and where it can be improved. As a tutor, I try to encourage the writers to catch and improve things on their own without me telling them exactly what to do. We encourage the development of writing skills over merely getting A’s on papers (although A’s on paper is also good!) Penn State’s Writing Center is a collaborate learning environment where writers can develop through sessions with tutors.
For some reason, I expected the Miami Rescue Mission education center to operate like this, but after talking with the guys in my group who tutored, I realize why it does not. Clearly, the men who come into the MRM center and the students who come to PSU’s Writing Center come for very different reasons. The students come to improve their papers, earn better grades, and develop their writing skills for future academic purposes. The homeless men who come to the MRM center come for many different reasons, but not for better grades. Most come just to learn how to speak and write with proper grammar, in order to increase their chances of getting jobs and moving up in life. Language is such a crucial element of life and one’s literacy and speech really does affect so many facets of life. These men try to get hired anywhere, and being able to speak properly is important to getting them out of their current situation.
My guy friends who tutored also said that man of their tutoring sessions turned into discussions about life. After working on English for awhile, many of the homeless men began talking about their circumstances, pasts, and problems. I think they just want someone to talk to and have listen to them.
I was definitely moved by my experiences at both the school and the Miami Rescue Mission warehouse last week. While I wish I would have been able to tutor, it’s best that I did not, and I still got to hear the stories of the education center. English is such an important part of daily life, and it is so important that we continue to teach it. There are so many different types of learners as well, from Penn State students coming in to the writing center, to classes of ninth graders, to middle-aged homeless men. English can not be taught the same way to everyone. As teachers, and just as human beings, we must take our learners’ backgrounds, prior knowledge, and needs into account before we decide what and how to teach.


2 Responses to “Missions, the Homeless, Writing Centers, and the Importance of Literacy”

  1. lisaangelucci Says:

    That sounds like a really cool trip…I volunteered in a homeless shelter for a month or two and the harassment was definitely an issue. For the most part, the comments were really mild and fine (people would just say “you’re pretty” or something along those lines) but there were other cases that were a lot more uncomfortable. but I was never in a one-on-one situation. So I think it’s interesting how the Miami Rescue Mission handles it.

  2. […] to get involved with such an inspirational group of fellow teachers.  Her previous post “Missions, The Homeless, Writing Centers and the Importance of Literacy” explored her reflections about tutoring English language learners at Penn State and the […]

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